Understanding by Design Action Steps


This entry is my LDT 620 Learning Journal #2.

As I have begun to work through the Understanding by Design
unit template I have found that when I have sat down and designed a unit, it is the process I already tended to follow. In the Understanding
by Design mindset, teachers begin with the end goal or standards then
develop the evidence that students will be required to submit to prove their
understandings and finally what learning activities will be a part of the curriculum.

So far, I have spent the majority of my time on the first stages of this model. I have focused on breaking down the standards and getting to the meat of the content that I want my students to gain. Through this process of “unpacking” the standards, I understand what the students need to
be able to do and what mastery should look like. I’ve used this as an opportunity to identify key vocabulary and skills that students should have in order to be considered proficient or masters of specific benchmarks.

I then move on to think about how I can
and want to assess them on those specific skills or knowledge items. Right now, in my classroom, there is a lot of formative assessment taking place. Students have daily homework and classwork that they can use to develop knowledge. Lots of this is based on observations that myself and other professionals in the classroom make and use to develop further learning activities for those students. 

From this
I can develop targeted learning opportunities for my students that will assist
them in the mastery of the knowledge and skills required to attain mastery of a
particular standard or benchmark. I have found that I like specific activities where students practice specific skills. For example, I recently had students complete a number sorting activity where they sorted numbers based on best descriptors. They had options of irrational numbers, rational numbers, integers, whole numbers and natural numbers. This specifically targeted the skill of classifying real numbers. 

The one adjustment that I have made to the Understanding by Design approach is to change when I address student misconceptions. These are useful planning opportunities. When informed of student misconceptions early in the planning stages, I can intentionally teach to avoid these misconceptions without needing to backtrack and correct them. (Not always a bad thing, but ensures better understanding.)

Where am I going from here?

I want to work to create a series of unit plans that I can use in the classroom and add to my portfolio. I would like to do this for all units that I will teach, but I think if I specifically choose one or two units a trimester that I will be more successful. (It’s a lot of work and to create many of these at once would be difficult and overwhelming.)

As a part of my new position, I have a common planning time with the academic support teacher and the special education teacher that I can use to develop learning plans for the coming week/unit. If I can start the Understanding by Design plans early and share them with these professionals to guide our planning I think we could be more effective. While I am finding myself to like the template more, it can be confusing and since we are not planning on all parts, I want to condense it to the items that they will need to assist with planning. Therefore this document that I share with them, will have some similar sections but will have many sections missing.

I also would like to look more specifically at the idea of transfer concepts for my students. I created one transfer goal for my current unit, but I feel that this is more of an overarching goal for math teaching in general. I am also struggling with understandings portion of stage one. These are defined as not being ‘truisms.’ What then are they in math? I will need to continue investigating the subtle differences in these concepts in order to move forward.

One thought on “Understanding by Design Action Steps

  1. Pat Christiansen

    Great thinking Renee. I appreciate your comment about getting to the meat of your content. Always searching for ways to allow students to think deeper about the content. How do you provide this in our instruction? How do we allow students to know they are being asked to dig deeper? Your words tell me that you have been wrestling with standards, trying to make sense of what they are really looking for from you as a math teacher. The more we play with them, the greater understanding we build for ourselves. I also like your phrase, “targeted learning opportunities”. Always being aware of these opportunities and capturing them makes a teacher so much more aware of what is taking place in the classroom. Knowing what we want through these opportunities is critical as well. What do I want to assess and how will I know they know by looking at the assessment? Student misconceptions should be a part of our instruction always. As we learn more about how a student interprets our content, we see these misconceptions and can change our instruction to address them so misconceptions are no longer! To many times I think we as teachers laugh off an answer a student gives when in reality we should be asking ourselves, how did he get that answer? what is making him think that? You’ve set some great goals for yourself. It sounds like you are embracing the backward design concept and looking forward to creating curriculum that will help your students learn to their highest potential. Nothing better than that!


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